Publisher's note: This article appeared on John Hood's daily column in the Carolina Journal, which, because of Author / Publisher Hood, is linked to the John Locke Foundation.
John Hood, chairman of the John Locke Foundation.
RALEIGH One of the legacies of the George W. Bush era was the codification of the red-blue color scheme for American politics. Newspapers and TV networks used the results of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections to produce maps characterized by dollops of blue in the Northeast, along the Great Lakes, and down the Pacific coast surrounding a vast land ocean of red.
The picture was arresting — but not really informative. It didn't show the large populations residing in those blue dollops, the millions of Californians who voted for Bush, or the millions of Texans who voted for Gore and Kerry. Nor did its narrow focus convey the strength of the two parties down the ballot — in places such as Minnesota that might vote reliably Democratic for president while electing Republican governors and legislatures or places such as North Carolina that voted Republican for president while electing Democratic governors and legislatures.
The color scheme persisted into the Obama era. The map certainly got less tidy. But the notion of red states, blue states, and "purple" states (e.g., North Carolina and Indiana going blue the first time and red the second time) remained overly simplistic. We are blessed with a broad palette of hues. Let's use it.
I'll count truly blue states as those that have voted Democratic in each of the past four presidential elections, have two Democrats in the U.S. Senate, a Democratic majority in their U.S. House delegations, and Democrats controlling all three of the main power centers of state government (the governorship and the two legislative chambers). In the aftermath of the 2014 midterms, there are seven blue states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Similarly, truly red states are those that have voted reliably Republican for president, have two Republicans in the U.S. Senate, have closely divided or Republican-majority House delegations, and a state government trifecta for the GOP. After 2014, there are 16: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska (if you count its nonpartisan but conservative legislature as red), Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
In between these two poles, there are at least four other groupings of states based on their recent political proclivities. Here's my palette:
- Violet states — Only a step removed from blue, they have been reliably Democratic in federal races (presidency, Senate, most representatives) but have split control at the state level. There are seven: Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.
- Fuchsia states — They still tilt Democratic but have either unified Republican control of state government, mixed outcomes for Congress and the presidency, or both. There are seven: Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
- Magenta states — These GOP-leaning states have experienced at least some recent Democratic victories for president, U.S. Senate, governor, or legislative chambers. There are eight: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.
- Rose states — Only a step removed from red, they either vote reliably Republican in federal races but have split control at the state level, or are mostly Republican at the state level but have a Democratic Senator. There are five: Alaska, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia.
I recognize that no printer or broadcaster is going to alter their handy maps to capture the full spectrum of political differences across the states. The result would look too messy. That's my point, however: the differences in question aren't pristine. To lump New Hampshire, Virginia, and Wisconsin in with Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina and call them all "purple" is to sacrifice accuracy for convenience.
Finally, you'll notice some clear regional patterns. All truly blue states are on the coasts. All truly red states are in the Mountain West, Great Plains, and Sunbelt. And most of the closest battleground states either ring the Great Lakes or are brimming with émigrés from Massachusetts (to New Hampshire and Maine) or from the Northeast in general (to Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina).
That information is valuable, regardless of whether it has you celebrating a red-letter day or singing the blues.